By now establishing itself globally, Hellfest is France’s biggest music event (having been awarded the prestigious ‘Meilleur Grand Festival’ title 3 times!) and is also one of the biggest metal festivals in Europe. Long aware that significant numbers of attendees arrive the day before the 3 event, Hellfest this year decided to lend Knotfest, a festival created by Slipknot, their 2 Main Stages in an exclusive 1 day event!
Thursday 20th June – Knotfest!
With 10 amazing bands including Rob Zombie, Sabaton and Amon Amarth swelling the crowds already trying to get into the festival zone, I arrived in time for MINISTRY’s set with the unmistakeable face of an energised (and dangerously sober) Al Jourgensen emblazoned across 3 giant video screens, agitated and pacing around the stage singing to ‘Just One Fix’ and ‘Jesus Built My Hotrod’. The sound was incredible as Derek Abrams – a veritable human drum machine – knocked out his colossal beats that reverberated around the field as guitarist Sin Quirin danced out his amazing axework. When Jourgensen ranted out his political diatribe on ‘New World Order’, screaming ‘Wake Up! Wake Up! Wake Up!’ the crowd needed no encouragement from this industrial noise wrecking machine in what must have been one of their finest performances ever.
Man, were those flame throwers!?!? Literally burning their way outta the darkness were BEHEMOTH in a theatrically spectacular set that included some lavish headgear like black veiled skulls whose stylish design matched the increasing sophistication in the band’s classy extreme metal. With front man Nergal leading the troop through ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’, ‘Conquer All’ and the truly captivating ‘Ora Pro Nubis Lucifer’ my awe was all the more given drummer Zbigniew Robert Promiński’s frightening double bass drumming speed – no wonder they call him ‘Inferno’!!!
Having felt the heat, PAPA ROACH brought their catchy nu metal core to the crowd, opting not to decimate but rather woo them through tons of crooning singalongs, tender melodies and heartbreaking harmonies on ‘Scars’, although ‘Not The Only One’ proved they could also kick ass when they wanted thanks to their djent riffs and hard backbeats. With Jacoby Shaddix dedicating ‘Firestarter’ to the Prodigy’s late vocalist Keith Flint, he parted the band’s moving set with his own emotional comment of ‘..it’s a good day to be alive..’.
With anger, hate and love already witnessed brilliantly so far, POWERWOLF brought the joy in bunches! Not strangers to Hellfest, and now with his own hand held quad mini flamejets, Attila Dorn’s operatic tones and jovial humour soon got the crowd singing to old favourites like ‘Amen And Attack’, ‘We Drink Your Blood’ and ‘Armata Strigoi’. Joined at the front of the stage by an absolutely mental Falk Maria Schlegel, clearly not content to be at the back with his keyboards, the dynamic duo took the audience by the scruff of the neck and shook until it too howled as insanely as the band!
Friday 21st June – Hellfest!
Having released a superb new album in “The Coffin Train”, I was curious to see how DIAMOND HEAD’s Hellfest debut would fair. In familiar stride and still with his signature white Flying V, founder guitarist Brian Tatler has recruited a fantastic new band whose presence was immediately felt through Rasmus Bom Andersen’s amazing vocals and the hammering double bass drums of Karl Wilcox on ‘Belly Of The Beast’. Stylistically fitting perfectly with the band’s trademark classic hard rock sound but definitely more fiery, the new songs gelled with classics like ‘Borrowed Time’ and when the crowd roared to ‘Am I Evil’, I was pleased to see Brian’s smile was as wide as mine.
Notwithstanding Patrick Mameli’s new look (and the controversy around it), PESTILENCE brought some old school technical death metal along with a hint of thrash to the Altar, where their mix of brutality and throat strained roars melded well with technical aspects including neo classical guitar on numbers like ‘Suspended Animation’, ‘Chronic Infection’ and ‘The Trauma’.
Easily the evilest person at the festival, Mika Luttinen’s menace could be felt well into the audience and despite being around for close to 30 years, IMPALED NAZARENE’s nastiness continues to pervade in their transition from black metal to aggressive punk metal where the guitars and drums seem to be outrunning each other on ball kicking ditties like ‘Total War – Winter War’ and ‘Armageddon Death Squad’. Luttinen kept asking the crowd why they weren’t drunker but after ‘Let’s Fucking Die’ I’m sure everyone needed a beer!
Delivering the most intense set of the entire 3 days, I was shocked by KVELERTAK’s electric performance – not to mention the sheer amount of sweat dripping off everyone! Despite mixing scandi punk, rock n roll and hard rock, there’s a very heavy rhythm especially in the smashing drum work of Kjetil Gjermundrød and new vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen’s throat raw screamo owe more than a nod to black metal on songs like ‘Månelyst’, ‘Blodtørst’ and ‘Mjød’ – not to mention his likeness to Axl Rose so like I said – intense!!!
Judging by the stream of Irish flat caps heading towards Mainstage 1 the DROPKICK MURPHYS were due onstage and sure enough, as the all too familiar intro of ‘Foggy Dew’ sung by Sinéad O’Connor came out ‘The Boys Are Back’ said it all as Ken Casey, now co vocalling with Al Barr really got the crowd going. I’ve followed these Bostonians from their early days and they’ve come a long way to perfecting their en masse singalongs through their catchy Celtic punk rock, be it in covers of ‘The Irish Rover’ to the social consciousness of ‘The State of Massachusetts’ and finally ending with the rocking movie soundtrack ‘I’m Shipping Up to Boston’. Crowd merry, you couldn’t say more except well done lads.
If there ever was a comeback, then Jeff Becerra and POSSESSED will take some beating. Despite his near murder and being confined permanently to a wheelchair, over the years he has steadily brought himself back and the release of this year’s “Revelations Of Oblivion” must surely be a testimony to one man’s fortitude. Backed by an incredible band including Emilio Márquez from Sadistic Intent who gets this year’s drummer of the festival award for his relentless ferocity as well as technicality, Becerra delivered admirably whether on newbies like ‘Graven’ to the classics everyone wanted to hear like ‘The Exorcist’ and closer ‘Death Metal’, aptly acknowledging them as founders of the genre.
Long awaited and still to the horror of some was TRIUMPH OF DEATH, Tom Warrior’s tribute to Hellhammer, his first band now given mythically iconic status worldwide. Given the vast majority of material had never been performed live only added to the appeal, with a large crowd amassing and a somewhat looking nervous Warrior taking to the stage. Still, he needn’t have worried given the incredible band he had including striking bassist Mia Wallace (Abbath, Niryth) and renowned drummer Alessandro Commerio (Forgotten Tomb) who, along with Warrior gave old songs like ‘Revelations Of Doom’, ‘Messiah’ and a cover of Celtic Frost’s ‘Visions Of Mortality’ a definite reminder of what ‘avant garde’ meant – a very classy performance indeed!!!
Saturday 22nd June
Basking in the warm sun were DEADLAND RITUAL, a supergroup composed of vocalist Franky Perez (Apocalyptica), guitarist Steve Stevens (Billy Idol), bassist Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath) and drummer Matt Sorum (The Cult, Guns N’ Roses) and whose groovy hard rock riffs and laid back bluesy soul gave a different take on covers of ‘Symptom Of The Universe’, ‘Rebel Yell’ and ‘War Pigs’, all of which were definitely appreciated by the sizeable crowd on Main Stage 1.
Formed in 1992, MOONSPELL are Portugal’s biggest metal band and clearly have a following given the packed Altar crowd. Led by Fernando Ribeiro, they brought their passionate goth magic and flowing melancholic soul along with some folk and eastern exoticism in older songs like ‘Opium’ as well as newer stuff like ‘1755’, culminating in an en masse singalong to their classic ‘Full Moon Madness’ .
Bringing back the spirit of British punk from the late 70s was SHAM 69, led by the iconic Jimmy Pursey who still hasn’t lost any of his attitude despite being in his mid 60s! Physically resembling Iggy Pop with his lean, ripped torso, Sham tore into classics like ‘Borstal Breakout’, ‘George Davis Is Innocent’ with plenty of shout outs of ‘leave ‘im alone!!!’ and the anthemic ‘If The Kids Are United’. I’m not sure how many at the Warzone understood Jimmy’s banter between the songs but the lyrics about injustice and working class solidarity seem just as poignant now as they were back then.
With the unmistakable lion mane of David Coverdale making his powerful presence felt, WHITESNAKE brought in their full show from their aptly titled latest release “Flesh & Blood” to Main Stage 1. Despite being 67 years old, Coverdale is still one of rock’s consummate front men in every regard, his stirring macho tones still setting the spark to many a tender heart on ‘Is This Love’ and the melodic rock hit of ‘Here I Go Again’. But when the roar came on ‘Still Of The Night’, backed by Tommy Aldridge’s pounding drums, everyone knew these guys were in the house – a truly magnificent performance!
Sweden’s original doom metal band, CANDLEMASS have come full circle with the return of original vocalist Johan Langquist, who last sang in the band 32 years ago! Still, it was hardly noticeable as he made sterling work of classics like ‘Bewitched’, ‘The Well Of Souls’, ‘Mirror Mirror’ and ‘Dark Are The Veils Of Death’ which have been long missed by all judging by the huge roars greeting each one from the packed Altar audience, who needed no prompting to sing along. Clearly appreciative of the support, founder bassist Leif Edling thanked all profusely for their love and loyalty to the band even after so many years.
Sunday 23rd June
Ironically, the last time I saw VOMITORY at Hellfest was 2012, just before the band broke up so it was with great appreciation that they once again brought their Swedish death metal to the Altar! With catchy grooves to match fast thrash beats, the nuclear steamroller of ‘Chaos Fury’, ‘Raped In Their Own Blood’ and old favourite ‘Regorge In The Morgue’ soon had the headbanging crowd in a frenzy to welcome these boys back from the dead once more.
‘..are you readyyyyyy!!!!..’ man, that monstrous hulk of Chuck Billy could not be mistaken on Main Stage 2 and he was clearly fired up given it was his birthday as TESTAMENT showed us why they are still one of thrash metal’s greatest as mighty Gene Hoglan hammered out the beats to classics like ‘Into The Pit’, ‘Over The Wall’ and my personal favourite ‘Disciples Of The Watch’ with its massive unforgettable riff as chugged out by Eric Petersen and Alex Skolnick – an awesome show by all accounts!
Since the mid 80s, IMMOLATION has been a name synonymous with US death metal especially in the New York area, although their chundering grooves and driving double bass beats are skilfully complemented by plenty of fast tremolo picking, complex rhythmic patterns and a liberal use of alternating tempos. With an anti religious stance during their early days making them (still) evil enough to be appreciated by black metallers, the band chose to concentrate the bulk of their set from their last 2 albums with the likes of ‘When The Jackals Come’, although classics like ‘Father, You’re Not A Father’ and ‘Immolation’ certainly did not go unnoticed by the faithful.
Back on Main Stage 2, ANTHRAX were bringing back all their glory days of circle pits and even a wall of death through ‘Caught In A Mosh’, ‘Efilnikufesin (NFL)’ and a monster ‘I Am The Law’, complete with some very slick rolling double bass beats from Charlie Benante, with virtually everyone screaming out the chorus – of course, it was just a warm up to ‘Antisocial’ with Joey Belladonna working the crowd expertly just as he did during their Donnington days.
Always bringing something different, this year it was VLTIMAS, the extreme metal super group consisting of vocals sans bass David Vincent (Morbid Angel), guitarist Rune Eriksen (Mayhem, Aura Noir) and Flo Monier (Cryptopsy) on drums. Resplendent in black trench coat and matching hat that could have done the Sisters of Mercy proud and made Glenn Danzig raise an eyebrow through his muscle bound, tattooed upper body, Vincent impressed equally with the music being a classy blend of dark goth atop a blackened death metal base, powerfully atmospheric and intensely charged on songs like ‘Last Ones Alive Win Nothing’, ‘Marching On’ and a heavy cover of ‘Black Sabbath’.
With the Main Stage 2 massed crowd pumped for LAMB OF GOD, Randy Blythe duly obliged with his flailing dreadlocks, and the rest of the band with a ‘best-of’ set that soon had plenty of circle pits kicking off to old faves like ‘Walk With Me In Hell’, ‘Laid To Rest’ and ‘Redneck’. Working stage expertly, I had to give Blythe credit for the way he immediately linked with the audience, who responded and sang along – when they weren’t slamming into one another – in one of those definite crowd bonding moments you never forget.
Not wanting to be upstaged in anyway, CANNIBAL CORPSE were eager to match Blythe & Co with their own choice ditties as they churned up the Altar into a blood red feast! Led by the gargantuan hulk of George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher, they soon had the audience captivated and headbanging in unison to his wind milling as his roars sent the front crowd mental, while the rest just swayed possessed to the massive grooves unleashed on killer klassics like ‘I Cum Blood’, ‘Make Them Suffer’, ‘Stripped, Raped and Strangled’ and the final bloodbath of ‘Hammer Smashed Face’ – yayy!
By now etched in everyones’ diaries, including my own for the 9th year running (!), this year’s Hellfest drew over 70 different nationalities from across the world, increasing its attendance over last year’s record breaking 180,000 levels. Despite overall trends in tourism declining in France, Hellfest continues to break this mould and prove it is well on its way from just being another metal festival to becoming an international cultural event on the ‘must see’ list of everyone!